Going Gluten-Free At Age 13 Jacob Rosenblum has celiac disease, an autoimmune condition that keeps his body from processing foods with wheat gluten. Even though he can't eat his peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on wheat bread anymore, or most cereals, his family is finding new ways to cook gluten-free and keep him healthy.
NPR logo

Going Gluten-Free At Age 13

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/105322381/105393138" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Going Gluten-Free At Age 13

Going Gluten-Free At Age 13

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/105322381/105393138" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And I'm Renee Montagne. In Your Health this morning, ailments you can treat at home. First, though most don't even realize they have it, one in a hundred Americans suffers from celiac disease. And it's a disease you can treat by eliminating one type of protein from your diet. Here's NPR's Allison Aubrey.

ALLISON AUBREY: That one protein is called gluten. It's in wheat, barley and rye and makes its way into lots of processed foods. But keeping a kitchen gluten-free is not as hard as it used to be. In fact, last year, it was the fastest growing niche in the food industry, which is helpful to Robin and Jay Rosenblum.

Mr. JAY ROSENBLUM: So this is the quinoa. It's absorbed all the water. It has the peppers and beans and onion. And it's going to be ready in just a minute. Just trying to boil off a little bit of the water. And then I'll put a little more cilantro in it and some feta.

AUBREY: Jay says his family had never tried this grain quinoa before last year. It cooks just like rice. But his son Jacob, who's in eighth grade, says it's got a funny taste and texture.

Mr. JACOB ROSENBLUM: It's more tough and - I don't know. It has more of a bitter flavor. But it's still good.

AUBREY: The reason it's become so popular in this kitchen?

Mr. JAY ROSENBLUM: This is not wheat-based, and it's a good staple.

AUBREY: As they set the table, the conversation turns to genes. Jay says he feels guilty that he passed along the genes that made his son susceptible to celiac disease, a fact he learned only recently. But, heck, he says he can also take credit for some of Jacob's good genes.

Mr. JAY ROSENBLUM: I gave you your hair, so we're even.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROBIN ROSENBLUM: Yeah, he has nice thick hair.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AUBREY: Jay's wife Robin says they can joke like this now, but last spring, they weren't laughing. Jacob was suffering terrible attacks of abdominal pain during sports practices and tests. It was happening a lot, and they had no idea the symptoms were triggered by gluten.

Mr. JACOB ROSENBLUM: It got to the point where I had to miss sports practices and games because I was feeling so sick. Like I would have to like lie down on my stomach for hours, because like the pressure kind of helped it. It was really painful.

AUBREY: Robin says over the years, Jacob had bouts with his stomach. At one point, she'd suspected maybe he was lactose intolerant, but the symptoms always seemed to pass. This time it was different, so she took him to see the pediatrician.

Ms. ROSENBLUM: I was nervous when we went, because I thought there could be something seriously wrong. And so I did a little research, and celiac was on my list of possible things. It was in the back of my mind. I mentioned it to the doctor.

AUBREY: At the time, Robin didn't know that her husband carried the genes for the disease, so when Jacob's blood tests came back positive, she was surprised. The day of the diagnosis, she says she got a little teary in the grocery store aisle, realizing how many foods contain gluten - not just breads and baked goods, but also soy sauces, salad dressings and many other processed foods. It stressed her out, but she says she realized pretty quickly how lucky they were.

Ms. ROSENBLUM: When we got the diagnosis and I knew all the other scary things are ruled out, I was elated. Oh, it's celiac. We know exactly what to do. There's no medicine. There's no horrible treatment. There's no surgery. He can just do it with his diet.

AUBREY: Jacob's turnaround was quick. Once he gave up his PB&J on whole wheat, his breakfast cereals and pasta...

Mr. JACOB ROSENBLUM: Within like one or two weeks of going gluten-free, I didn't have any of the symptoms that I had before.

AUBREY: Dan Leffler directs celiac research at the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. He says this kind of quick recovery is typical.

Dr. DAN LEFFLER (Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center): Really in about 90 percent of patients, they get almost complete relief of whatever symptom they came in with - be it, you know, anything from hair loss to fatigue to diarrhea. With diet alone, the symptoms can really be almost completely ameliorated.

AUBREY: The trouble is most people suffer with the disease for a decade before they're diagnosed. The symptoms overlap with many other conditions and they come and go. Leffler says oftentimes it's stress that makes the symptoms bad enough to be worried about. Jacob Rosenblum thinks that might've been true for him. His dad Jay says thankfully, it's completely under control now.

Mr. JAY ROSENBLUM: Looks pretty good, right?

Ms. ROSENBLUM: Yeah, it looks good.

Mr. JAY ROSENBLUM: Ok. It's cooked.

AUBREY: Jay says in learning to avoid gluten, they've become a little more adventurous in the kitchen.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.